Episode 50 of The Teaching Space Podcast provides an extract from the new book The Productive Teacher by Martine Ellis.
An extract from The Productive Teacher by Martine Ellis:
Teaching is the hardest job I’ve ever done.
You have to play the part of the expert (because teaching feels like acting sometimes) , even if you really don’t feel you deserve it. You have to know the answers, even when you don’t. You are in charge, even when you don’t want to be.
My journey into teaching wasn’t a traditional one.
I left school after my A levels and worked in a variety of industries from lending to recruitment. I settled in the finance sector because I found a company I really liked (this helped mask the fact that the job was dull). They recognised my potential and fast tracked me to a senior leadership position. I became a director at 29.
On the surface, everything looked great. I was earning a high salary, and I drove a convertible (and I wasn’t even 30). But things weren’t great. I wasn’t happy in my work. I felt that what I did wasn’t important.
The other problem was that no one really understood my work. Do you remember how nobody really knew what Chandler in Friends did? That was me. I used to work with international property developers so most people thought I was a timeshare salesperson!
(Alleged) timeshare sales to teaching? That seems like a leap, doesn’t it? Let’s rewind a little.
Way before I started full-time work, I was teaching. My stepmother was a dance teacher, so I learned to dance and ended up teaching for her. At every stage of my career I have trained staff, not because it was in my job description, but because it was something I did well and loved.
When I finally summoned the courage to admit that I wasn’t happy in my finance role, a few strange, seemingly unconnected things happened.
First strange thing: I filled out one of those irritating chain letter style questionnaires on Facebook. You know the ones; they ask loads of questions and then you need to copy and paste the questions and answers in your status and tag other friends to do the same… Anyway, I must have been bored at work that day because I completed the questionnaire.
One of the questions was something like “what job do you wish you did?” And without thinking, I typed “teacher”. A dear friend commented on my status with a simple question “well why not?” She made a good point!
Second strange thing: around the same time, I found out my local further education college was advertising a one-year maternity cover contract teaching office administration to 16 to 19-year-olds. Now, I’m not a girl who believes in fate or anything woo-woo like that, but it really felt like the universe was trying to send me a message.
In true ‘message from the universe’ style, the contact for the maternity contract advertisement was the sister of a close friend of mine. I called her to talk about the role and, shock horror, the deadline had passed a few days before. They allowed me to apply anyway (third strange thing) and, long story short, I got the job.
I’d like to say it was all plain sailing from that point onwards, but it really wasn’t. I had to take a considerable pay drop, which took some getting used to. My first week of teaching was hell. It was just so different. I’d gone from having the corner office with a stunning view of the ocean and a team of staff, to sitting in a cold, damp staffroom, so close to my colleagues we almost needed to work in a Mexican wave.
I started my new role on a Monday, and that Wednesday I can remember sitting in bed with my husband, in tears, saying over and over again, “what have I done?”
Once that first week was over, I had a stern word with myself. I leaned on my new colleagues and confided in them that I was struggling. They were amazing. I got to know my learners and, slowly but surely, I fell in love with my new profession.
I also started using the productivity tools and skills I’d learned in industry, while climbing the corporate ladder.
By the end of that first year, I knew I was in the right place. Thankfully, the college agreed with me and took me on as a full-time lecturer. My gamble paid off.
That was 2009.
Fast forward to today and I am now a teacher educator at the same college where I started my journey into teaching. I help others discover how amazing teaching can be and support their transition from industry to educator. I’m also a Google Certified Trainer and technology coach which means I support teaching colleagues with using technology in the classroom.
When I’m not teaching, I produce an education podcast, The Teaching Space. I also speak at events and train other organisations (often with a focus on Google products, but not always).
So why this book? Why now?
The role of the teacher is becoming more difficult every day. Budgets are being cut and teacher workloads are growing. Many teachers are leaving the profession and new teacher numbers are in decline.
Here are some worrying statistics about teacher wellbeing from the UK’s Education Support Partnership Annual Health Survey (2017):
75 percent of teachers have faced physical and mental health issues in the last two years because of their work.
50 percent said they had experienced depression, anxiety or panic attacks due to work.
64 percent would not feel confident in disclosing mental health problems or unmanageable stress to their employer.
Unsurprisingly, one of the main reasons given for this stress in the survey was the volume of work.
Teachers have an unusual work day structure. One of the biggest shocks for me on leaving the corporate world and going into teaching (aside from the dramatic decrease in disposable income and the tragic loss of my sports car) was working to a timetable.
Being in the classroom is great, but the time you have to complete non-teaching work is so limited. You try to snatch time between sessions but it’s never enough. Timetables never seem to allow for a stretch of a few uninterrupted hours. How is anyone supposed to do focused work by snatching 15 minutes here and there?
This unusual work day structure is one of the reasons teachers spend so much time working at home and during their holidays (which is not OK, by the way). It’s also why we fail miserably at achieving work/life balance...
But that’s where I, and this book, come in.
While I cannot inject a massive wad of cash into the global education system, I can help individual teachers.
Using my business, teaching and technology experience I can help individual teachers and trainers be more productive.
I can help you work smarter and faster, without compromising your personal and professional standards. I can do this because I have done it. I have achieved work/life balance.
You can do it too.
Here are my 10 proven productivity strategies.
P.S. I have kept this book deliberately short because I want you to read it twice. Once to absorb the information, then a second time to put these strategies into practice.
P.P.S. This book is written with teachers and trainers in the post-16, non-compulsory education and corporate training sectors in mind. That being said, the strategies can apply to anyone in a teaching role. Just bear in mind some of the terminology I have used might be slightly different in, for example, a primary school setting.
I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Thanks for helping me get to episode 50 - I could not have done it without you.
Find out more about The Productive Teacher at theproductiveteacherbook.com.